Music may have been his passion, but it wasn’t the only thing that stirred the emotions of David Griggs-Janower.
Family, friends and fans gathered Friday morning at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall to celebrate the life of Griggs-Janower, founding director and conductor of Albany Pro Musica, who died Sunday evening at the age of 60, five months after suffering a stroke.
“Fab music and fab text,” meaning the lyrics that went with that music, are what Griggs-Janower would have wanted to hear at Friday’s event, according to the Rev. Bill Levering, pastor of First Reformed Church of Schenectady, who delivered a short introduction as well as the benediction. About 60 vocal members of Albany Pro Musica, guest conductor Timothy Newman, accompanist Starr Norman and seven other musicians did just that Friday, but there were also plenty of words offered up by some of Griggs-Janower’s closest friends and colleagues, giving those on hand a closer look at the man.
“One of the things that secured my friendship with David was that he was a magnificent liberal,” said Marion Roach Smith, “and one hallmark of that is being inclusive.”
Griggs-Janower’s inclusive views indicated a strong liberal bent on many of today’s social issues, and if he wasn’t preparing for a musical event, you could often find him advocating for many causes such as gay marriage and abortion rights.
“David was a lifelong, zealous newspaper reader,” said Rex Smith, editor of the Times Union and an Albany Pro Musica member. “He was the most careful reader of the newspaper I know, and he often wrote letters to the editor. He had so much more to say, and we’re all devastated that we won’t be able to read and hear more of his pungent comments, and marvel at his broad intelligence and quick wit, and witness firsthand his deep commitments and passions.”
A Guilderland resident, Griggs-Janower was born and raised on Long Island. A graduate of Cornell University, he earned a master’s degree and doctorate from the Indiana University School of Music. He moved to the Capital Region in 1981 and soon began teaching at the University at Albany. He leaves behind his wife, Paige, and their two children, Kathryn and Michael.
Friday’s memorial service filled the Music Hall to more than two-thirds of capacity and began with a rendition of “Fanfare for a Festival.” After a welcome from Levering, the chorus sang “Shenandoah,” a personal favorite of Griggs-Janower, and then former University at Albany president Karen R. Hitchcock offered some insight into the life of Griggs-Janower. Along with Albany Pro Musica, Griggs-Janower also helped develop the UAlbany Ensemble.
“Albany Pro Musica and the UAlbany Ensemble remained his passions, but he also contributed to the quality of life on campus in so many other ways,” said Hitchcock. “He encouraged his students to strive for excellence, express themselves clearly and to develop curiosity. He was inspirational, but he also loved humor.”
According to Albany Pro Musica board president Margery Whiteman, Griggs-Janower wasn’t always the easiest person to please.
“He drove his singers to practice, practice, practice, and he did strive for excellence,” she said. “But it was more than just being technically perfect. He would say, ‘There are a lot of choruses that are technically perfect. What we want to do is sing with real feeling for the music.’ ”
Whiteman said wherever Griggs-Janower went, he usually took a book with him.
“David loved learning,” she said. “Whenever we had lunch or a meeting, he would always be there before me, buried in a book. He would say, ‘Read and learn, read and learn,” and laugh. That was his modus operandi.”
Whiteman read works from two of Griggs-Janower’s favorite poets, William Blake and Christina Georgia Rossetti, and other musical offerings by Albany Pro Musica included “Sing Me to Heaven” and “Swingin’ with the Saints.”